Anyone who has ever watched PBS knows the call letters WQED. Pittsburgh's public TV station is shorthand for TV excellence -- and it extends its mission to entertain and inform hometown viewers in print with Pittsburgh.

The snappy regional pub, which reaches nearly 300,000 monthly, chronicles an exciting, urbane city -- one I never knew growing up. In the 1960s and '70s, the Steel City moniker was taken literally and a cultural triumph was a Super Bowl victory -- with fans manically waving the Terrible Towel and downing Iron City beer. Fancy and sophisticated, it wasn't.

However, many American cities have undergone a renaissance and Pittsburgh celebrates an industrial behemoth turned natty cosmopolitan with features, profiles and events coverage. Not to go all Hans Christian Andersen on you, but the ugly duckling is now a beautiful swan -- and the September "best" issue struts its stuff. It offers, per the zippy calendar, Friendship House Tours, highlighting designs by Charles Bartberger. Pittsburgh is a city of old money; the Carnegies, Fricks and Mellons weren't shy about conspicuous consumption -- and I'll bet they didn't know how many houses they had, either. Several robber-baron mansions are now schools, proving that utility (and a hefty tax break) is the mother of invention.

Pittsburgh is eclectic and well-written, a must for every resident and those contemplating a visit or move. Being voted a No. 1 livable city is a draw. So is Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, a lively theater scene, the Carnegie and Andy Warhol Museums and diverse neighborhoods, such as Squirrel Hill and the Strip District.

But let's begin, as the issue does, with food, rendered in digestible bites. In my youth, a corned beef sandwich from Richest's, a beloved family-owned deli, was a big deal. But like lifetime warranties and $2/gallon for gas, it's pure nostalgia. Today, sushi rolls and vegan cafes are popular. I'm down with health, but up with rewards -- like the mag's best short-ribs melt at Mio Kitchen and Wine Bar. It comes with caramelized onions and melted provolone on grilled Tuscan bread. Like John McCain says: It's tried and tested. For dessert, check out Gluuteny, a wheat-and-dairy-free bakery. Life, unlike politics, is all about balance.

Frankly, I was most impressed by this category: best full-service gas station. The winner: Roznowski Services. They fill the tank and check your tires while you sit in the car! For motorists, this is Fantasy Island. Men: fill 'er up, then head to Cercone's, an old-school barbershop in business since 1932. It's the anti-metrosexual.

What's fun about a best list, however subjective, is that it helps define an inviting city. Sure, it targets the expected, like best VIP table (Privilege Ultralounge), but it also reveals the best pumpkin patch (Soergel Orchards) and best mystery (Mystery Lovers Bookshop, 10,000 titles strong.) The monthly features were equally hamish. Steeler Nation remains such an intense phenomenon, the writer noted Steeler bars as far-flung as Beijing. "Pencilvania" profiled a Pittsburgh pencil collector, while "Fan Club" caught up with former wrestling champ Bruno Sammartino, who looks like he could still body-slam his neighbors. Bottom line: Pittsburgh is upbeat and cheerful. It's not New York magazine, with tough, investigative stories and sardonic critics; it's like the city itself: friendly and accessible.

Of course, the Pittsburgh I remember had Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente cracking wood for the Pirates. Trips to Kennywood Park, a national landmark boasting some of the best roller coasters in the world, were a treat. For enthusiasts, the Thunderbolt and Phantom's Revenge are heaven-sent, though I'd staple my head before riding one.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong: There are second acts in American life. Pittsburgh's transformation from polluted mill town to pristine metropolis is among the best. And the magazine's coverage, like the 'burgh itself, is personable and fun --- from first page to last.


Published by: WQED
Frequency: 13 issues/year
Web site

Next story loading loading..